PigeonBot Attains Bird-Like Flight
Mon, April 19, 2021

PigeonBot Attains Bird-Like Flight

PigeonBot approximates the complexities of bird flight / Photo Credit: Brian Lasenby (via Shutterstock)


Merrit Kennedy of NPR, a platform that delivers national and world news, said a team from Stanford University created a robot that mimicked the way birds fly. PigeonBot is a winged robot that approximates the complexities of bird flight better than any other robot today.

When a bird soars through the air, its wings dramatically change shape as it performs hairpin turns and swoops up and down. The shape of its wings changes more than the wings of airplanes. Such complexities posed a design challenge for scientists who were trying to translate bird flight into robots. The motions that bird wings make are more superior than those of airplanes. David Lentink, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, commented, “It actually enables birds to fly further, longer, maneuver much better."  

Lentink led a team to show some of the unique ways that bird wings work. The researchers used what they found to design the PigeonBot, describing it in a paper published in Science Robotics, a journal portal. They used common pigeon cadavers to figure out the mechanics of how to control the motion of their feathers when flying. Several doctoral students realized that feathers would fall into place if a bird’s “wrist” and “finger” are moved. When these parts move, the feathers move too, albeit automatically, Lentink said. The team successfully replicated the bird’s wings on the robot using 40 pigeon feathers, springs, and rubber bands connected to a wrist-and-finger structure.

They also used a wind tunnel to see how the design worked under turbulent conditions. The researchers also observed that tiny hooks on a bird’s feathers lock together like Velcro at certain moments during flight. Lentink explained, “These tiny, microscopic microstructures that are between feathers lock them together as soon as they separate too far apart and a gap is about to form. And it's really spectacular.” However, bear in mind that the researchers’ PigeonBot did not flap its wings. In fact, they were more focused on incorporating the wrist-and-finger motions of the wings, allowing the robot to glide through the air.

Lentink stated that the feather-locking technology can inspire high-tech clothing fasteners or specialized bandages in the future.